Can a building blur the lines between humans and nature?

View Cabin Designs

Winning Designs Selected!


1st Place – The Whaelghinbran Nomadic Cabin (Entry #014)

Designer:   Nathan Fisher, B.Arch Sci, M.Arch

Location:    Toronto, Ontario, Canada

From the Judges:

“The Nomadic Cabin entry meets all of the competition requirements in spades. It is compact, easily constructed from local material, is easily movable, and is beautiful. The designers have also been very subtle and sophisticated in the key design moves they have made - like the trailer jacks to support the cabin. I have a sense that this design will become a popular approach for building rural cabins in the future, and could become an iconic feature of the Acadian Forest landscape.”

- Craig Applegath, Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP


1st Runner Up – Acadian Abstraction (Entry #030)

Designers:   Belle Stone, BA, M.Arch & Jeffrey Sullivan BFA, M.Arch, MCM

Location:     Brooklyn, NY, USA

From Community Forests International:

“The transition between the forest and sheltered space in this design is really elegant – especially the vertical wood slat vestibule.  I was also really drawn to the idea of a large skylight directly over the bunk – it makes sleeping out under the stars possible in any weather, any time of year; you get to enjoy nature without giving up all your creature comforts!”

- Zach Melanson, CFI Communications Director


Judge’s Award for Architectural Poetry – Hearth (Entry #047)

Designers:   Kyle Schumann, B.Arch & Katie MacDonald, B.Arch

Location:   Los Angeles, California, USA

From the Judges:

“The Hearth entry is one of the most compellingly poetic and inspired entries submitted. It has a powerful, grounded shape, and a materiality that connects it to the forest in a most arresting manner. But it is the inspired idea of having the entire exterior of the cabin clad in horizontal wood planks for storing firewood that gives this form its subtle and somewhat subversive appeal. On the one hand this is a very practical design; on the other, it is a slightly surreal idea - one that would more likely be found in a deepest forest-air induced dream than in reality.”

- Craig Applegath, Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP


*People’s Choice Award – Marlice (Entry #023)

Designers:   Alice Dupin, M.C.E, M.Arch and Marion Filliatre, M.C.E, M.Arch

Location:    Paris, France

*Determined by highest number of online votes from the general public.

From the Judges:

“The Marlice entry is a very elegant cabin. The designers paid particular attention to both it's constructability and cost. It has an elegant form and would fit in quite nicely in the landscape. It's interior layout is also well thought out and will be comfortable for its inhabitants.”

- Craig Applegath, Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP


Thank you to all who contributed to this design challenge - your innovation is inspiring.  Click the button above to see a gallery of all shelter design submissions.



Competition Details

Community Forests International (CFI) is hosting a crowd-sourced architectural design competition for the backwoods cabin of the future.  Bringing together visionary architects, artists, green builders and DIYers, the competition is CFI’s first step towards establishing a Rural Innovation Campus at its 235 hectare farm and forest outside of Sussex, New Brunswick.

This Maritime-based campus will compliment CFI’s parallel efforts overseas, where the organization has already begun constructing an equivalent institution on the island of Pemba, Tanzania.  CFI will pair the two campuses closely, facilitating an international exchange of ideas and energy in our collaborative fight against climate change.

But first things first - how is CFI to accommodate students, innovators and guests at it’s nascent Maritime campus in a way that best reflects the organization’s goals and vision? At CFI we often look to the land for inspiration, and to natural systems for design solutions. Can our campus buildings blur the lines between humans and nature? CFI has opted to put this challenging design question to the greater conservation and sustainability community, through a wide-open public architecture competition.  Anyone can apply – students, professionals, dreamers, and DIYers alike.

Entrants will have their design ideas displayed online and submissions will be judged by a panel of leading architects, artists, and builders.  The winning designer will receive a $1,000 cash prize, and will see their vision become reality when CFI constructs the building at its Rural Innovation Campus in the summer of 2014.

“I think building a backwoods cabin is something we all dream about at some point in our lives.  With this competition we’re asking people to tap into those dreams and envision how we can get back to nature in the modern world – it's the sort of restorative action that we can all get excited about. ”

– Estelle Drisdelle, Community Forests International


Design Challenge

CFI plans to bring people into the forest, to live, learn and innovate, and as part of our mission we want to demonstrate how humans can dwell in the world without destroying life sustaining ecosystems.  More than that, we want to push the envelope and discover how our buildings can be designed to have a positive impact on the landscapes we live in.  CFI is asking designers, architects, builders and DIYers to help us design a shelter for the future – a shelter that blurs the lines between humans and nature.

In the interest of making this exercise as free and accessible as possible, CFI has adapted the conventional architectural design competition.  We hope that our architect friends will forgive us for taking liberties!



  •  Invent and design a small all season shelter for backwoods accommodation of one or two people.  The shelter will be used primarily as sleeping and retreat quarters for students, workers, dreamers, and guests.
  • Size is important. To be cost effective and to minimize the overall environmental impact, the shelter should be designed to effectively sleep at least two and provide for a woodstove.  Although there is no minimum size in this challenge, the shelter’s footprint must not exceed 17.09 m2 or 184 sq. ft.  Loft accommodation may be considered, and additional features such decks, tables and seating are optional.  A composting toilet will be located in a separate shelter ‘on site but out of sight’.  Primary cooking and washing facilities will be provided for at communal infrastructure off site.
  • Develop strategies that maximize the use of local, sustainably sourced, low embodied energy, and non-toxic building materials (for reference, designers are encouraged to refer to the Living Building Challenge’s Materials Petal:
  • Aside from supplemental wood heat, the sole energy source for the shelter will be the sun.  Capturing solar energy should be considered in the design, particularly for the installation of a small photovoltaic (PV) array to provide electricity for lighting.  The PV system will also require consideration in the design for the location and storage of associated electronics and batteries.
  • Teams are encouraged to carefully consider the region’s climate and geography, and to respond in meaningful and appropriate ways.  We are situated within a local snow belt in a forested upland valley at 2,593,372 meters easting and 7,415,708 meters northing (UTM NAD 83 CSRS New Brunswick Stereographic).
  • Teams may also draw inspiration from existing buildings on site and / or the region’s local architectural design and material history.  This inland area of the Kennebecasis River Valley has straddled Mi’kmaq and Maliseet territory for at least the last 2,500 years.  The traditional dwelling of both these peoples is a portable wigwam constructed using softwood poles, spruce root lashing, and birch bark sheathing.  Wigwams are cheap, sturdy, weatherproof, constructed entirely of local non-toxic materials, and are easy to heat, ventilate, and cool (don’t worry, we won’t hold your design to such a high a standard!).  The region’s Acadian architectural history includes stone foundations and fireplaces, thatched roofs, dovetailed logs, adzed half-timbers, and heavy timber frames with cob infill walls - to name a few.  The early English settlers introduced more log shanties and timber frames, stone enders, saltboxes, etc.  Wood construction has dominated in the region since the mid-1700s, due mainly to the abundance of forest products.
  • The winning project will be constructed in its entirety by CFI staff and volunteers. Although CFI staff are experienced in constructing timber frames, yurts, and earth plastered straw bale buildings, teams should aim to keep the structural and building techniques as simple as possible

180 View of the Building Site

180 view of the building site


Submission Requirements

1) Illustration

Each proposal can consist of up to six (6) 8.5” x 11” illustrations documenting the design strategy at a regional and architectural scale.  All illustration sets will be displayed in an online gallery via the CFI website and short-listed entries will also be displayed at Thunder and Lightening Ideas Inc. a public venue in Sackville, New Brunswick.  Your presentation should include the following drawings:

  • Site Plan
  • Floor plans
  • Elevations
  • Exterior perspective or Axonometric 
  • Building section or sections
  • Any other drawings or diagrams that you think might help explain your project

 Illustrations are to be submitted by email to as PDF files labled with the following filename designations:

  • TeamName_1.pdf
  • TeamName_2.pdf
  • TeamName_3.pdf
  • TeamName_4.pdf
  • TeamName_5.pdf
  • TeamName_6.pdf

Design entries will then be displayed anonymously on this website for public viewing and judging.


2) Description

Provide a brief explanation of your design entry, highlighting the particularly innovative and / or central themes (max 500 words).


3) Materials & Price List

Provide a materials and price list for your entry in an Excel file or an equivalent spreadsheet format.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are using the uploader / submission button your Material & Price List must be submitted as a .PDF, .PNG, or .JPG - for all other file types please submit your entry by email to .


Building Site

Größere Kartenansicht


Figure 1. Whaelghinbran Farm Watershed Map


The building site is located at the crest of a south-facing slope in a multi-aged, multi-species forest stand composed largely of white pine (Stand No. 24 - Figure 2. Whaelghinbran forest cover map).  The tallest trees range between 16 - 18 meters (50 – 60 feet) high and irregular openings in the canopy allow dappled sunlight to reach the forest floor.  High elevation sightlines towards the south & southwest provide views up the Whaelghinbran Valley to deep woods and distant forested ridges.  

Minimal selective pruning and canopy removal will be carried out at the south end of the building site in order to increase solar exposure for a photovoltaic array and / or passive heating.  Aside from careful maintenance of this solar exposure and removal of hazardous trees when necessary, the site will remain pristine.

Access to the building site will be limited to a nearby forestry extraction trail to the north and footpaths (to be developed).  Therefore, only light machinery may be used for delivery of materials, excavation, construction, etc.  Following construction, the building will be accessed primarily on foot and seasonally by snowshoe or cross-county ski.  A small composting toilet will be installed at walking distance from the building, but out of sight.  A simple firewood shelter may be constructed onsite in the future if the winning building design does not provide for firewood storage.




Craig Applegath - Architect, PPOAA, AAA, Architect AIBC, NSAA, FRAIC, LEED® AP

Architect, urban designer, and a pioneer in planning and design for regenerative buildings, urban resilience and symbiotic cities, Craig is a Principal at the Toronto studio of DIALOG (, a multidisciplinary architecture, engineering, design, and planning firm.  Craig and his wife Jane are also devoted CFI supporters and mentors, and helped to develop the organization’s Pemba Rural Innovation Campus.  

John Leroux  - Architect, AANB

A graduate of the McGill School of Architecture and the graduate program in Canadian Art History at Concordia University, John worked at several award-winning architecture firms in Toronto, Atlanta and Fredericton. John is contributing architecture columnist for the Telegraph-Journal and Canadian Architect magazine, and also the author of six books on New Brunswick architecture including Building New Brunswick: an architectural history.

Paul Henderson - Director of Thunder & Lightning Ideas Ltd.

Paul is the co-owner/director of Thunder & Lightning Ideas Ltd, a full-service, interdisciplinary, creative design/photo/art/events agency and small pub in Sackville, New Brunswick. Paul served as the past Creative Director of SappyFest, an independent music and arts festival he co-founded in 2006. Paul received his BFA from the Alberta College of Art & Design in 1999 and subsequently moved to the Yukon Territory where he worked with the Klondike Institute of Art & Culture, Dawson City International Short Film Festival, Dawson City Music Festival and the Odd Gallery.

Marc Spence – Green Builder, VW Chop Artist, and Acadian Forest Steward

Founding member of the EnerGreen Builders Co-operative and the New Brunswick Community Land Trust (NBCLT), Marc is a long-time environmentalist and CFI mentor.  When Marc isn’t working on green builds with his friends at EnerGreen, he can be found at his rural NB homestead practicing Acadian forest restoration & working on DIY energy & transportation projects.

Zach Melanson – CFI Co-founder, Permaculture Designer, and Graphic Artist

Before becoming a founding member of CFI, Zach earned a BFA from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NSCAD) and spent several summers tramping around the wilds of northern Canada planting trees.  In addition to his role as Communications Director at CFI, Zach acts as the organizations resident photographer, filmmaker, and graphic designer. Zach has experience timber framing, and is currently renovating a 100+ year-old farmhouse in historic Dorchester, NB.



All entries will be displayed via the innovation platform on CFI’s new website.  Short-listed entries will be printed and displayed in a public exhibition at Thunder & Lightning in Sackville, NB.  The winning entrant will be announced on March 1st, 2014 and awarded a $1,000 cash prize.  The winning design will be constructed at CFI’s Rural Innovation Campus in the summer of 2014 and profiled in associated media communications and on the CFI website.



Jan.    15th, 2014      –     Q &A Period Closes
Feb.    15th, 2014      –     Submission Deadline
Mar.    1st, 2014      –     Winner Announced



All entries received will be considered public information. Entries submitted should be the original work of the participant or team.

By submitting a design, the entrants agree that Community Forests International shall have the unlimited right to publish and exhibit and otherwise use all materials submitted by competition participants.  The use of these materials is at the discretion of Community Forests International without compensation to the entrant. Winners will be credited with the design of their work. Entries may also be used as an educational resource.


Photo Gallery of Building Site and Existing Farm Buildings

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